On May 30, the same day his Edgewood High School classmates received their diplomas at commencement, Rocceon M. Harrison turned himself in as the primary suspect in a non-fatal shooting that occurred in April.
This fall, prosecutors dropped all charges against Harrison once his alibi checked out and there were “questions” about the victim’s credibility, Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly said.
So nearly seven months later, Harrison and his family celebrated his graduation from Edgewood High on Sunday in a ceremony at his church.
“I was just happy they were doing it for me, period,” Harrison, 18, said Monday.
The ceremony took place at More Than Conquerors Worship Center, which holds Sunday services in the Edgewood Boys & Girls Club. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Derren A. Thompson, worked with the Harford County Board of Education and Harrison’s family to recreate a commencement ceremony, complete with speeches and a red cap and gown — Edgewood High’s colors — for Harrison.
“We were really able to recreate what would have happened on May 30, just on a smaller scale,” Thompson said Monday.
Harrison had faced charges of first-degree assault, second-degree assault and use of a firearm in a felony violent crime, according to online court records.
The charges stemmed from a non-fatal shooting on April 10. Lennira Sumler, who was 19, was shot in the leg while walking with two other people near the Edgewater Village Shopping Center, according to a news release issued by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office when Harrison turned himself in.
Investigators determined Sumler and her companions were walking through the area “when a group of unidentified black males started yelling and shooting at them.” The two other people with Sumler were not hurt, according to police.
Harrison became the shooting suspect based on the Sheriff’s Office investigation, and an arrest warrant was issued May 24.
Harrison turned himself in May 30, on the advice of his mother, whom he recalled telling him, “You’re just going to have to go through it.”
It was the day when he would have otherwise donned his cap and gown and received his diploma in the school gymnasium.
Harrison, who played basketball for the Rams, said he completed the requirements for graduation, but he could not attend.
During the commencement, EHS Principal Kilo Mack told the more than 260 graduates to “dream the biggest dreams possible."
Police initially charged Harrison with attempted first-degree murder and reckless endangerment, in addition to the three charges for which he was indicted.
A Harford County judge released him on his own recognizance the next day after a bail review hearing, according to the release.
Prosecutors dropped the assault and firearm charges Nov. 20, according to court records.
The victim had been “extremely uncooperative,” Cassilly said Monday.
“We had real questions about her credibility, and decided we needed to not pursue this without some additional information,” Cassilly said.
Harrison also had an alibi that could not be refuted and he produced witnesses who said he was with them when the shooting happened, according to Cassilly.
“We felt that it was appropriate to drop the charges,” Cassilly said.
Harrison said Monday he had been visiting his godmother in Perryman the day of the shooting.
“I was just chilling in Perryman all day with the people I was with,” Harrison said.
Dropped charges bring ‘relief’
Harrison said he felt “relief” when he went to Harford County Circuit Court in Bel Air last month and learned the charges would be dropped.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen in that courtroom, to be honest,” he said.
Thompson, the church pastor, began working with school system leaders and Harrison’s family to put on a commencement. He said he had been providing “moral support” to the family during the legal process.
“The [diploma] was already conferred, all we needed to do was issue it,” Thompson said.
Three generations of Harrison’s family attended Sunday’s ceremony, including his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
School board member Jansen Robinson, who represents the Edgewood and Joppa areas on the school board and has worked with Thompson in the past, attended, as did school board member Al Williamson.
Robinson said HCPS Superintendent Barbara Canavan planned to attend, but she was sick Sunday and has pledged to send Harrison a congratulatory letter.
Thompson, who is a doctoral degree student, wore academic robes, and Harrison gave his own graduation speech.
“It was real good,” Harrison said of the ceremony. “I just thank them for even doing that.”
‘Live, love and learn’
Thompson’s church, which was founded in February 2005, has about 75 members.
Thompson, the founding pastor, said he serves as a “cheerleader on the sidelines” for his congregation, supporting them through legal or medical problems and emphasizing the church’s principles of “live, love and learn.”
“I have a passion for young people and seeing young people do well and walk into their destiny,” Thompson said.
Robinson, the school board member, said the ceremony was meant to show Harrison how much he matters.
“It was all for him, and I’m hoping that he takes that and it will help him in his future endeavors,” Robinson said.
Harrison, who lives with his grandparents and girlfriend in Edgewood, said he works at a warehouse, but he is preparing to move to Miami, Fla., to work with his uncle’s cyber-security firm.
He also raps and has put out several songs, such as “My Story” and “Neglect,” about his experience since the charges were dropped.
“That’s how I get to tell my story,” he said.
His former basketball coaches have kept in touch with him, and he has been going to campus once a week to visit with the current team since the season started.
“They’re going to grow as the year goes,” he said. “They’re cool right now, they’re good.”
Harrison said he will head to Florida in a couple months. He said he is focused on music and “telling my story.”
“I feel like I’m walking on a good path now,” he said.